Liveable Places: Housing Biographies in a Manchester Neighbourhood

  • Dawn Cole

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis explores how individuals and households experience the places in which they live and examines the potential impact of those places on outcomes across a range of life careers. Residential neighbourhoods have been variously framed as sites of personal expression or alternatively as locations of multiple deprivation that limit the life chances of the local population. This thesis however, argues that the limited framework within which existing studies of housing and residential choice are developed provides only a partial account of the complex and multidimensional nature of the relationship people have with the places in which they live. It addresses this gap by drawing on a wide range of theoretical ideas and by moving away from the deficit model of housing that dominates much academic work. In doing so it opens up the subject to scrutiny from a variety of perspectives and lays bare the varied and competing influences on decisions about housing. Use of quantitative information in the form of detailed housing biographies addresses a gap in existing knowledge by placing housing decisions in the context of past experience and other life careers. The introduction of qualitative techniques to a discipline dominated to date by large scale surveys supplements this evidence with the rich, nuanced data of personal experience.Three key elements of housing practices are identified, demonstrating the extent to which they are inextricably interconnected with a range of other life careers. Despite the recent ascendency within geography of a relational sense of place at the expense of the territorial, both are seen to be important. Savage et al's (2005) concept of elective belonging is clearly identified as residents construct a narrative of fit between self and neighbourhood. Multiple strategies of social distinction are observed, each of which serves to transform the house and the neighbourhood into a home. Secondly notions of community remain an essential element of residents' sense of belonging to their neighbourhood. The research reveals highly focussed personal networks that serve to produce and sustain location specific capital. An un-reflexive immobility is the result, where settled households perceive little need to consider residential alternatives. Finally, the physical and social infrastructure provided by the neighbourhood is identified as an important means of mediating the demands of home, work and childrearing. As such women, as primary care-givers, show greater investment than male partners in the 'right' residential choice. The thesis reveals liveable place to be complex and multifaceted, difficult to reduce to a simple economic or social variable. Whilst there are constant characteristics which appeal across the social scale, it highlights divergent experiences according to class, gender and life course stage. Choices and outcomes are embedded in social structures so that the research demonstrates the on-going impact of liveable place in the accumulation of social, cultural and economic capital to those who live there. Whilst liveable place is seen to mean different things according to class, gender and age, those trapped in neighbourhoods they do not consider liveable are potentially excluded from this accumulation.
Date of Award31 Dec 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorKevin Ward (Supervisor) & Mark Jayne (Supervisor)


  • liveability
  • ordinary
  • social capital
  • housing
  • housing biographies

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